The bad girl in the letter box.

Grab that paper bag and breathe…… In. Out. In. Out. Any other day, I would have be tempted to add “….and shake it all about” before enthusiastically dancing the hokey-pokey, but not today. As I clocked the beautiful weather and the tulip leaves poking out of the earth, my good mood plummeted: I realised with horror that this beautiful weather also announces her arrival. She’ll be back soon. Like every year. Lurking dangerously at the bottom of the letter box and cackling sadistically. Meet CERFA 2042, the evil French income tax form.

Evil Queen

Be afraid. Be very afraid. She may be lurking in your letter box: CERFA, the evil Queen of Tax Administromia. (Photo credit: DoodleDeMoon)

How I long for the British PAYE system. Filling in a form to get money back every year is somehow so much more motivating that having to calculate how much income tax you have to pay to the French state. It’s a bit like having to choose your own poison. So when I pull CERFA out of her tricolour cellophane sarcophagus, I generally scream with a mixture of rage and anxiety at the sight of the A3 recto verso sheet of A-level maths exam, ironically dubbed “the short version” by the powers that be. (Apparently Cerfa’s big brother is called “the full version”: if he ever turns up in my letter box, I’m bailing out in my Tardis.)

Wonder Woman makes short work of the beast: She digs the appropriate paperwork out of well-organised files, fills in the forms with self-satisfied flicking of hair and noisy clicking of perfectly manicured fingernails on her pink calculator, and has the damned thing back in the post before you have time to say “tax office”. But I am not Wonder Woman. So step two kicks in: a state I call “tax form denial”. Whilst Good Sense and Responsibility batter at the door, Cowardice holes up in a paperwork-resistant bunker and pulls out a bar of chocolate to share with her best chum, Procrastination.

Procrastination is a great pal of mine. She and I have been wandering along life’s road together for a long time now; she’s always there to comfort me when something I don’t enjoy rears its ugly head. With her help, I finish all my work well ahead of deadlines for as long as Cerfa is around. I suddenly and inexplicably become an excessively responsible pet owner and take Smelly Dog for very long walks, making sure she gets enough exercise even if it is pouring down with rain. I could even justify cleaning the car with a toothbrush. For a short period, my family is astounded to have a clean home and is perplexed to see me being so enthusiastic about the laundry that I practically rip the clothing off their backs to have an excuse to put a load on to wash. Yes, I admit it: I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a blunt spatula than pamper to the evil Cerfa’s needs.

Pandora's Box Side

Pandora’s Box (Photo credit: yum9me)

By two weeks before the deadline every year, the drawer of my desk becomes my personal Pandora’s Box, and every time I walk past I swear I can hear growling and scratching in its murky depths. I generally give up at this point and hit phase three: “hit the problem before it hits you”. After this date, time strangely accelerates, children mysteriously get sick, and before you know what’s happening you only have a few hours left before the clock strikes midnight, and you are turned into the tax equivalent of a pumpkin. Anyone who has experienced the stress of pounding on their keyboard with sweaty fingers as they try to submit their tax form at the same time as the rest of the French nation (-except Wondeure Woumane, of course, who is already in bed with organic, planet-friendly night cream on her wrinkle-free face-) will understand what I am getting at.

You have to be a hybrid of lawyer, mathematician and accountant with nerves of steel to fill in a French tax form. Before completing this administrative marathon, I make sure that I have not drunk any coffee and put away any sharp objects. Then I get the paperwork together. These receipts, bills, invoices and certificates from the bank are vital if you hope to knock some euros off your tax bill. In my case, this involves emptying drawers and boxes of paperwork located anywhere from the garage to the bedroom, until I emerge clutching my precious paperwork, muttering triumphantly like Gollum after a day looting Tiffany & Co.

First comes the expenses part of the form. If you don’t think that 10% of your salary is enough, you have to do a few complicated mathematic equations based on the power of your car, and the distance travelled. Then it’s time to tally up the value of P.F’s packed lunches for the entire tax year. Followed by the interest paid on the mortgage and the cost of insulating work on the house, and extra paperwork for my freelance work…. By the time I have finished filling in the form and submitting it online, I feel nauseous and light-headed, and have the distinct feeling that the Tax Office know everything there is to know about us bar the content of PF’s Tupperware boxes and the size of his underpants.

The first Captain Underpants book.

Tax forms are a pile of pants.  Does the Tax man wear Captain Underpants undies? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French government often debate about whether immigrants should be let in, and on what conditions. I’d say it’s easily solved. Give them a sheet of paper detailing a fictitious home, family, income and various additional criteria (childcare, mortgage, work to improve home insulation, free-lance working parent, a pension plan, a given number of children of which one or two study, etc). Give them a calculator and the form, and two days to complete it. If you succeed without the help of humans, alcohol or Prozac, you can stay. Hey presto, immigration problem solved. I’m going into politics…….

21 thoughts on “The bad girl in the letter box.

  1. I think we have a similar system here. I let Mrs Sensible deal with the tax form, and Mrs Sensible pays some Italian geezer to work out how much we have to pay.

    I am glad to see that you are also a friend of Procrastination, have you met his friend Al.K.Hall?

  2. I must admit, life is easier when one is a wage slave employee. The fisc already has all my financial info which is already printed out, and all I have to do is add maintenance and my cleaner’s wages. And hey presto it takes 10mins. Doesn’t even cost a stamp as I do it online.

    I have known the bad days though when I was married to a doc who was both a public servant and a private consultant. The tax form was a NIGHTMARE! We used to actually go to the office before midnight due to prevaricating and there’d be quite an atmosphere of fellow retardees rejoicing at having beat the deadline by a minute or two, or despondently trying to negotiate with the keepers of the letter box to open it up again to avoid the 10% fine. Minutes have never been so costly!

    • Midnight feast at the local tax office with stressed out doctors, must try that….. We get the pre-filled one, but we have so many other bits and bobs to add on and take away that I just want to scream and yank my hair out… plus the other form to be filled in for my translating, and it’s enough to turn me into a banshee

  3. love this!!!! I am an accountant in my “real life outside blogoland” in the UK, so I know all about filling in UK tax returns, and my friends react just like you when they have to fill out theirs…. haven’t tried a French one though! sounds much worse.. 😦

    • You’re an accountant? You mean you can spend all day doing sums and filling in forms without going bananas? I am most impressed 🙂 French administration is only rivalled by the Italians, I think: they pay heaps of civil servants but the tax payer still has to do lots of homework for them.

      • I know MM, tell me about it!!! drives me nuts every time I have to go back to Italy, and I only go for a few days at a time…

    • omg Elisa…another thing in common! My degree was in accountancy & finance! ( 3 yrs was enough though & ended up in retail management for 15 yrs ) Hasn’t helped me with our French tax forms though …I leave that to Mr D & our friend who luckily works in the local tax office 😉

  4. Oooooh, now you’ve spoilt my day! The accountant used to do ours, but we were paying him a little fortune to transfer what I had already prepared. Like you I put it off and end up on the tax office doorstep at midnight! I have a dreadful fear of officialdom just in case I do something wrong and will then be hauled in and thrown in a dungeon. Even if I see shop security I have to check I am not leaving the shop with a bra or something hanging from the back of me!

    • Mouhahahaaaaah, I’m the Cruella da Vil of the blogging world 😉 Loved the shop security comment- I make a point of smiling at them and saying “hello” when I go in. I got accused of stealing my own jeans when I tried to run out of a clothing store after my two-year-old once because the security whatsit on my new sandals hadn’t been disactivated. I dared the woman to undress me in front of the other clients and she ended up letting me go 😀

      • LOL! If this was in France I’m surprised she just didn’t just go ahead & try to undress you! I’ve never found security ( or other such public serving figures) to be very understanding or discreet here , especially in Carrefour where I’ve been openly accused of shoplifting more than once. On demonstrating quite clearly that I hadn’t stolen anything, did I get an apology? Of course I didn’t – just the ubiquitous gallic shrug and a wry smile!!

      • Hello, and welcome to the madhouse! Please feel free to leave your ball and chain at the door, fellow suspicious-looking person 🙂 I agree with you about what I have come to call “the garlic shrug”.. I suppose that they probably get it right more often than they get it wrong, but an apology would be appreciable none the less….

  5. OMG. From what I see on the news the French taxes are horrible and I send you my ?condolences? I did ours and a friends this year as they were quite simple. Plus we had a baby and got a nice return. CHA CHING!
    Once we have to Serbian ones…. I am not doing them… Cyrillic tax forms sound worse than French. LOL

    • Thank you. I’m collecting all this sympathy and keeping it to comfort me when SHE arrives. Money back, hey? Wow! Once you have do the tax forms in your country of adoption, you’ll be able to say that you’re 100% adapted to your new climate. Dare you 😉

  6. You have my sympathies, anything that involves filling in forms that requires maths of any sort and I’m running for the hills, chasing procrastination with Al.K.Hall in my backpack!!! 🙂

    • Thanks,I don’t feel so guilty now 🙂 I have realised that I forgot to change my driving licence for a French one- this is going to be fun (not). Off we go again on an administrative caper…. pass your backpack;-)

      • Good luck with that one, keep Al.K.Hall on standby, you may need it! 🙂 Or take smelly dog or one of the snakes with you… that may speed things up a bit!!! 🙂

      • I’ll no doubt be posting about the experience, I fear it will be a hairy one…. If I take the snakes they’ll probably send me back to the UK, or put me in one of the over populated French prisons. Brr.

  7. And I thought life was bad enough when I had to fill in a full British tax form with the special extra pages for Ministers of Religion! That was a positive doddle compared to what you’ve just described. I knew there was a good reason we never came to live in France full-time. 🙂 Bonne chance.

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